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UK: Online Safety Bill introduced in Parliament

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport ('DCMS') announced, on 17 March 2022, that the Online Safety Bill was introduced and passed at its first reading in Parliament, following demands for regulation of internet services to provide safety for their users. In particular, the Bill is set to impose the following legal requirements on different types of providers, including internet service providers ('ISPs') which allow users to encounter content generated, uploaded, or shared by other users, such as user-generated content, ISPs which publish or display pornographic content, and search engine providers which enable users to search multiple websites and databases.

Furthermore, the bill is intended to confer new enforcement powers on the Office of Communications ('Ofcom') to enforce the legal requirements through the following methods, although there has been scrutiny of such delegation in the Joint Committee report:

  • to compel in scope providers to provide information, and to require an individual from an in scope provider to attend an interview, in addition to powers of entry and inspection;
  • to impose financial penalties of up to £18 million or 10% of qualifying worldwide revenue; 
  • to apply to the courts for an order imposing business disruption measures on that provider; and
  • to produce codes of practice for ISPs, setting out the recommended steps that providers can take in order to comply with legal requirements.

In addition, the DCMS highlighted that bill is set to replace existing communications offences with three new communications offences, which include: a harmful communications offence, a false communications offence, and a threatening communications offence. Further to this, the DCMS noted that the Bill would create a new 'cyberflashing' offence.

You can read the press release here, the impact assessment here, the Bill here, and track its progress here.

UPDATE (19 April 2022)

Online Safety Bill introduced for second reading

The DCMS announced, on 19 April 2022, that the Online Safety Bill was introduced for a second reading in the House of Parliament, which will debate the protection of children and vulnerable people in online platforms. In addition, the DCMS outlined that alongside this, there are new plans to support vulnerable and digitally excluded people as part of the Government's Online Literacy Strategy. In particular, the DCMS highlighted that to support these changes, a new Media Literacy Taskforce will be established, made up of 18 experts varying from a range of private and public organisations, working together to tackle disinformation and identify and reach vulnerable people most in need of education.

Furthermore, the DCMS clarified that the Media Literacy Action Plan is set to complement the UK Government's range of counter-disinformation measures which includes the Online Safety Bill and DCMS's Counter-Disinformation Unit, which monitors harmful misinformation and disinformation and works with social media platforms to ensure action to address it.

You can read the press release here.

UPDATE (4 September 2023)

Online Safety Bill introduced for third reading

On 1 September 2023, the UK Parliament announced that the Online Safety Bill has moved to the third reading in the House of Lords, following its passage through the report stage on 19 July 2023.

The Parliament noted that whereas no changes to the bill had been suggested ahead of the third reading, further amendments to the Bill may be made during the third reading.

The third reading will take place on 6 September 2023.

You can read the press release here, the bill here, and track its progress here.

UPDATE (20 September 2023)

Online Safety Bill passes Parliament

On 19 September 2023, the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology (DSIT) announced that the Online Safety Bill had been approved by both Houses of Parliament on the same date, and would become law after receiving Royal Assent.

You can read the press release here, the bill here, and track its progress here.

UPDATE (27 October 2023)

Online Safety Act becomes law

On 26 October 2023, Ofcom announced that the Online Safety Act had become law after receiving Royal Assent. Ofcom noted that it would now implement the Act and that it had published its implementation approach and timelines, outlining how Ofcom would drive changes aligned with the Act's objectives and support services to comply with their new legal obligations.

Ofcom also highlighted that it would implement the Act in three phases as follows, with the timing driven by the requirements of the Act and relevant secondary legislation:

  • phase one: illegal content;
  • phase two: child safety, pornography, and protecting women and girls; and
  • phase three: categorized services.

You can read the press release here, the Act here, and Ofcom's implementation approach here.